Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Robert St. John: Not Your Typical Everyday Christmas Message

Let’s talk about failures. The holiday season may seem like a peculiar time to air personal disappointments, but stick with me.

My father died when I was a small child. An even more unorthodox way to begin an inspirational pre-Christmas column, but that event still holds as the worst thing that ever happened to me. I’m putting that aside for the sake of this narrative and focusing on three of the worst things that happened to me in within a short, six-year period in my twenties.

Worst thing #1: I flunked out of college. 1981. 

Worst thing #2: I got a DUI and ended up in alcohol and drug rehab. May 25th 1983

Worst thing #3: We fired our chef on opening night of my first restaurant. 1987.

In college I'd been majoring in communications because that's all I knew from my work experience as a disc jockey in high school. I wasn’t interested in communications; I was interested in partying. Embarrassed and ashamed after flunking out, I moved back home to my hometown of Hattiesburg MS looking for a job. There were two ladies who were opening a delicatessen. They didn't know much about the restaurant business, which is evident, because they hired me as the manager. I fell in love with the restaurant business instantly and set a new course for my future: To open a restaurant of my own one day. Had I not flunked out of college I would have never gotten into what I believe is the career that I was born to do— the restaurant business.

The DUI saved my life. Seriously. I’ve been clean and sober ever since. I am 100% convinced that, at that point, I wouldn’t have lived much longer. At 21 years old I had resigned myself that I wasn’t going to live to see 30, and sadly, I was OK with that. The truth is— the way I was living, and the amount of alcohol and drugs I was consuming daily— I probably wouldn’t have made 25. 

In 1987 I sold the only thing of value I owned: a landlocked piece of land in rural Perry County  that my grandfather left me in his will. That $25,000.00 was my stake in opening the first restaurant. My mother begged me not to open a restaurant. “You'll ruin the family name,” she said. At that point I couldn’t have done much more harm the family name than I had already done in my misspent youth. 

We hired a chef from the Florida Panhandle. He was a legend. He was a legend for two reasons: 1.) His food was excellent, and 2.) He was a binge drinker who could start drinking on Wednesday and not be seen again until Sunday. We hired him on the promise that he would not drink. On the opening night of the first restaurant, I learned my first business lesson: Lock the beer cooler. The chef drank a case of beer out of the walk-in cooler and a bottle of Dr. Tischner's from across the street at the gas station. We fired our chef open opening night which forced me back into the kitchen. The extent of my cooking experience at that point was that I had asked for, and received, an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas when I was six years old. Had we not fired our chef that night I wouldn’t have spent the next four years working 90 hours a week in the kitchen which gave me the valuable foundation to succeed going forward. 

It is said that missing a bus could change one’s entire life going forward. My story doesn’t start with a bus. It starts with The Beatles and their 45rpm single of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” It was one of the first records I ever owned. It had been out several years by the time my babysitter gave me her copy. That scratched up, worn out record opened up whole new world as I not only fell in love with The Beatles, I fell in love with all music.

Music became my friend and constant companion from that day forward.

I was raised by a single mom who raised my brother and me on a public school art teacher’s salary. My brother and I had no choice but to work as soon as we could. At 15, after a couple of years of mowing yards and working as a janitor in my school, I needed a full time job. My mother approached the owner of a local radio station and told him that her son loved music and would love a job at his radio station. I was hired. 

For expediency’s sake I will put this narrative on the fast track going forward. If my babysitter hadn’t given me that Beatles record, I wouldn't have fallen in love with music as hard as I did, and never would have gotten a job at the radio station which led me to major in communications in college, which led me to flunk out of college because I wasn't interested in communications. 

After I flunked out of college, I ended up getting the only job I could find which was in a restaurant. Had I not gotten that job I would have never fallen in love with the restaurant business. Had I not gotten into the restaurant business I never would have employed over 10,000 people over the past 37 years, and never would have founded Extra Table which is feeding hungry Mississippians over 6,000,000 free meals a year. The restaurant business also led me to writing this column which led me to authoring books and producing and hosting television shows, which led me to taking my family on an extended six month trip to Europe.

From that Europe trip came a new career of hosting tours. But without hosting tours Anthony Thaxton and I never would have spent time with John Anderson at the Walter Anderson Museum one night which led to the idea of a documentary on Walter Anderson, and had that documentary not been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, for over 1,100 airings on over 325 public broadcasting stations, and won two Southeastern Emmy Awards we wouldn't have been approached by Mississippi College to open the Institute for Southern Storytelling.

In the end, things that seem like the worst things that could happen in the moment can turn out to be great blessings given time. A large portion of the 670,000 Mississippians who suffer from food insecurity are eating today, and the positive stories of Mississippians are being spread across the country. All because of a silly pop song that was released in 1964. 

So, the Christmas message here is that one never knows what influence one is going to have on another. Take time with young people. Be caring. Be giving. Be patient in those youthful days. Give them second and third chances. You never know when you’re giving a little kid their version of a spark that could be as simple as a Beatles record.

That Easy Bake Oven is now on display in the culinary wing of the Max Museum in Meridian, the Beatles record is on my office bookshelf. It keeps me ever grateful and is a constant reminder that I am blessed way beyond what I deserve.

I still fail, almost daily. But I do my best to keep moving forward and try to get just a little bit better each day.

I’m not a winner, far from it. I’m just a loser who refuses to give up. 



 Italian Cream Cake

1 cup               Butter, softened
2 cups              Sugar
5 large                         Eggs, separated
2  1 /2 cups      All-purpose flour
1 tsp                Baking soda
1 cup               Buttermilk
2 /3 cup           pecans, finely chopped
1 tsp                Vanilla extract
1 can               Flaked coconut (3 1 /2 oz.)
1 /2 tsp            Cream of Tartar
3 Tbl               Grand Marnier
1 recipe           Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease and flour three nine-inch round cake pans.  Line pans with wax paper;
grease paper, and set aside.  

Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Combine flour and baking soda.  Add buttermilk and flour alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Stir in pecans, vanilla, and coconut

Beat egg whites at high speed in a large bowl until foamy.  Add cream of tartar; beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans; peel off wax paper; and let cool completely on wire racks.  Brush each cake layer with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on sides and top of cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8 oz.) pkg    Cream cheese, softened
1 (3 oz.) pkg    Cream cheese, softened
3 /4 cup           Butter, softened
1  1 /2              Powdered sugar, sifted
1 1 /2 cups       Pecans, chopped
1 Tbl               Vanilla extract

Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in pecans and vanilla.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS